It has been a cause for concern for quite some time that the proportion of S&T news and analysis in the Indian media is abysmal. There are also concerns relating to the quality and effectiveness of the S&T coverage. The CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), therefore, organized a Workshop for “Training Journalists in S&T Reporting” during 1-3 September 2015.
The Workshop, which was attended by 18 journalists, sought to facilitate their interaction with some of the most eminent scientists and scientist administrators of the country, expose them to prominent scientific projects and impart to them reporting skills which would be helpful in effective communication of scientific developments in the country. The Workshop was supported by the National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
At the Inaugural Function of the Workshop, Ms Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR briefly enumerated some of the major activities of CSIR-NISCAIR that has been engaged in science communication for the past almost 63 years. Today, NISCAIR is the largest institute in the country engaged in science communication and dissemination of scientific information. It has carved out a niche for itself by becoming the only Institute in the country that publishes 17 peer-reviewed research journals and three popular science magazines – Vigyan Pragati in Hindi, Science Reporter in English, and Science-ki-Duniya in Urdu.
In his Keynote Address, Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NSCTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India emphasized that we should be proud of belonging to a country that has a profound democratic system. But the question is whether the media is playing its role of buttressing the democratic traditions of the country. He said that the press had a responsibility towards the people of the country. We need to have a well-educated, fully informed citizenry in the country, he said.
The Workshop exposed the journalists to some of the major scientific projects in the country. While Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, NCSTC enumerated the role of the Department of Science & Technology in executing national science projects and introducing schemes to enhance scientific human resource capability in the country, Dr. Viswajanani Sattigeri, Senior Principal Scientist, Planning & Performance Division, CSIR recounted several achievements and successes of the CSIR laboratories in keeping with the demands of time.
In his lecture, NPL – Timekeeper of the Nation, Dr. Amitabh Sen Gupta, Former Acting Director, CSIR-National Physical Laboratory informed the journalists that CSIR-NPL is responsible for the highest level of time and frequency measurements in India and maintains the Indian Standard Time (IST). In his very interesting presentation Dr. Sen Gupta talked about the highly intricate and sophisticated mechanism by which the time-keeping responsibility is discharged by NPL.
Mr Pallava Bagla, Science Editor, NDTV in his lecture Fun & Joy of Reporting on Mangalyaan, recounted his experiences with reporting on the Mangalyaan where he could get extremely close to the spacecraft and actually touched it. He said that journalists need to develop a certain amount of trust with project leaders and mission commanders to be able to get information that would help the journalist turn out a meaningful report. Mr Pallava also asked the journalists to ask questions – sometimes the most simple of questions unravel the most compelling of information.
In a presentation on Indian Initiatives in Nano Science & Technology, Dr. Praveer Asthana, Head, Nano Mission, Department of Science & Technology informed that India began its foray into the world of nanotechnology in October 2001, and today after 14 years stands third after China and the US in terms of research publications being published in the field – nearly 2,000 researchers had so far published around 5,000 research papers from India. The Centre has invested Rs 3,000 crore in 15 years on nanotechnology, which is nearly one-fifth of the funds spent by the US and China. However, nanotechnology products may be potential Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) hazards precisely because of the same reasons that make them useful. Hence, regulatory safeguards needed to be formulated but these will emerge as science progresses in this field.
Mr Ashok Malik, Former Assistant Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh in his presentation on Science Reporting gave several tips to the participants on how to keep abreast of S&T developments. He emphasized the need for developing contacts and networking with scientific institutes for breakthrough developments and with scientists for clarification of scientific concepts, inventions and ideas. He listed out several social media avenues such as Twitter, FaceBook and Blogs through which journalists could stay in touch with scientific developments and also follow scientists.
Two interactions were also arranged with Dr. K. VijayRaghavan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, and Dr. Rajesh Gokhale, Director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
Dr. K. VijayRaghavan said that science reporting in the media is mainly restricted to new developments and that too is much hyped, almost bordering on science gossip, reflecting the poor communication between scientists and journalists. He called upon the journalists to work hard to understand the science better. He said there is enough exciting work in science going on in the country. Journalists need to work out a way of making science a community venture. He wondered whether a mechanism could be set up to encourage regular and fruitful interactions between the media and scientists, something on the lines of a Science Media Centre. This could help create a global marketplace for Indian science, he said.
Dr. Rajesh Gokhale informed that CSIR-IGIB is engaged in research of national importance in the areas of genomics, molecular medicine, bioinformatics, proteomics and environmental biotechnology. In Genomics and Molecular Medicine, the Institute is focusing on neuropsychiatric disorders like Schizophrenia, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes and other complex disorders. The Institute also focuses on respiratory diseases Tuberculosis, Asthma and Allergy, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
Since the objective of the Workshop was also to expose journalist participants to some of the most premier scientific institutes in the country, two visits were organized – one to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the other to the National Institute of Immunology (NII).
The valedictory function of the Workshop was held on 3 September 2015 at the CSIR Science Centre, Lodhi Road. In his welcome address, Dr. Girish Sahni, Director General, CSIR said that journalists play a very important role in communicating, among other things, the cultural and scientific heritage of the country. He called upon the journalists to play a greater role in communicating the scientific and technological developments taking place in the country.
The DG-CSIR also invited the journalists to spend a day in the national laboratories to help them know about the important research and development activities and also suggested that the journalists should interface with younger scientists. The Director General said that CSIR would look into the possibility of developing an institutionalized mechanism for facilitating journalists to visit the labs.
Addressing the workshop participants, Mr. Rajendra Prabhu, Chairman, NUJ (I) School of Journalism and Communication said that many science journalists do not adequately cover major scientific events and developments in the country. He stated that there was a need to strengthen S&T reporting and was hopeful that this workshop on S&T reporting would be the beginning for many such workshops that would bring about meaningful interactions between scientists and journalists.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Honourable Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, who was the Chief Guest of the function, welcomed the gathering and said that having a group of young journalists as participants of this training programme is a very healthy sign.
The Hon’ble Minister said that the science environment in the country is upbeat and is moving forward with positivity. He said that his visits to several CSIR labs were a revelation and that he learnt about the importance and worth of the national laboratories and realized that the general public and more importantly the students were unaware of the many accomplishments of the institutions under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences.
The Minister said that journalists need to be passionate about understanding the scientific activities being carried out in the country and that they have to find out what is happening in Indian science. He exhorted the journalists to visit the national laboratories and interact with the scientific community.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan suggested that a series of such workshops for journalists in S&T reporting should be held in different parts of the country. He also mulled over the possibility of instituting National Fellowships in Science Journalism to honour science journalists who have carried out exemplary reporting of Indian science news and events.
In closing, Mrs. Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR proposed the vote of thanks. She said that the objective of organizing this workshop was to bring about a close interaction between our journalist participants and the scientific community, to expose them to some scientific projects and developments taking place in the country and to help our journalist participants develop a wide understanding of science and technology issues in the country.
To commemorate 100 years of Indian library and information science journals and 60 years of Annals of Library and Information Studies published by CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), a seminar on ‘Indian Library and Information Science Journals: Problem & Prospects” was organised by CSIR-NISCAIR on 23 April 2014 in collaboration with SAARC Documentation Centre and Society for Information Science.
Annals of Library and Information Studies which completed 60 years of publication in 2013 is the oldest surviving English language primary library and information science journal published from India. The journal was launched in 1954 by the erstwhile Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) as Annals of Library Science with the Father of Indian Library Science, Dr. S R Ranganathan as its Founder-Editor. In ten years that he was Editor, he wrote as many as 87 research articles for the journal. In 1964, the journal was renamed as Annals of Library Science and Documentation and in 2001, it was given its current name, Annals of Library and Information Studies.
Speaking at the inaugural session of the seminar, Ms. Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR mentioned that despite the 100 years history of Indian LIS journals, it needs to be introspected as to why no Indian LIS journal is covered in the Journal Citation Reports of Web of Knowledge and consequently do not have an impact factor. She said that the journal editors should focus on enhancing the quality and visibility of the LIS journals.
Noted library and information science author and editor, Prof. B K Sen, the Chief Guest of the inaugural function launched the Annals of Library and Information Studies archives in the open access domain. With the launch, all the issues of the journal going back to 1954, Volume 1, Issue 1 are now available online.
In his inaugural address, Prof. B K Sen gave a brief history of Indian LIS journals giving decade-wise statistical details about the journals. He mentioned that several library and information science journals had ceased to exist and most of the Indian LIS journals presently being published fall behind there publishing schedules. Prof. Sen expressed concerns on the mushrooming of open access LIS journals in the recent years as many of the journals lacked even the basic quality standards.
The seminar was attended by 57 delegates who included editors, authors and researchers.
The Editors Speak session was chaired by Prof. C P Vashisth, Editor, Library Herald. Dr. Ashok Kumar, Associate Editor-in-Chief, DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, Prof. S M Shafi, Editor, Trends in Information Management, Dr. P K Bhattacharya, Editor, World Digital Libraries, Dr. Sujit Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Scientometric Research, Prof. Pijushkanti Panigrahi, Associate Editor, IASLIC Bulletin, Dr. M Madhusudhan, Journal of Library and Information Science and Dr. G. Mahesh, Editor, Annals of Library and Information Studies spoke during the session. Each Editor gave a brief account about the journal that they edited and highlighted the issues faced by them. The Editors were concerned about the lack of quality in the articles being submitted to the journals. The prevailing peer review process including the paid vs. free peer review process, coverage of journals in abstracting and indexing databases and the impact factor were discussed.
The Authors Speak session was chaired by Dr. K C Garg, Former Chief Scientist, CSIR-NISTADS. In his opening remarks, the Chairman said that the LIS research process has come a long way in the last many decades. Specifically highlighting scientometric research, he said that many of the current papers merely tabulated readily available data from citation databases without proper interpretation of the data. Other authors who spoke at the session were Prof. Jaideep Sharma, Professor, DLIS, IGNOU and Dr. S M Pujar, Deputy Librarian, IGIDR, Mumbai, Dr. V K J Jeevan, Deputy Librarian, IGNOU and Dr. Rabisankar Giri, IG Delhi Technological University for Women.
The authors narrated their experiences of submitting and getting articles published in Indian and foreign journals. The emergence and growth of open access journals based on a case study of DOAJ indexed journals was discussed. Authors felt that large majority of the Indian LIS journals were broad-based and that it is about time to have quality journals in focussed areas.
The seminar ended with a panel discussion on “The rise of Indian LIS journals: Quantity vs Quality”. Prof. B K Sen chaired the panel discussion and the panellists were Prof. Jagtar Singh, Professor and Head, Punjabi University, Patiala, Prof. Dinesh K Gupta, Professor, VM Open University, Kota and Dr. Sanjaya Mishra, Director, Commonwealth Education Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA). The panel was concerned about the quality of the Indian LIS journals and agreed that one of the major problems was a basic one which has to do with the LIS research in India in general. The panel felt that there was a need to focus on teaching how to conceptualise research problems and how to write research papers. The roles of the editorial boards in furthering the quality of journals were also discussed based on the comparison of editorial boards of Indian and foreign LIS journals. Panellists felt that open review of manuscripts and more coordination among editors should enable enhancing the quality of journals. The engaging discussions had several delegates probing the panellists on many issues.
The seminar concluded with a vote of thanks. It was decided to bring out the September 2014 issues of Annals of Library Information Studies as a special issue on the seminar theme.
Recommendations of the seminar
Lack of knowledge and awareness give rise to unscientific notions. With time these notions get firmly entrenched in the psyche and are passed on from generation to generation, unquestioningly. And, often, it is this blind faith that gives rise to irrational beliefs and behaviour.
For instance, in Jharkhand, children are gored with red-hot iron rods to cure them of illness. In Karnataka, newborns are thrown from atop a temple to bring good luck and mentally challenged children are buried neck-deep for six hours during a solar eclipse. In Chhattisgarh, suspected tribal women are branded “witches” and tortured to death. In others parts of the country, those suspected of being possessed by spirits are beaten brutally and children are often sacrificed to bring luck. These are not instances from long back. Such incidents are being reported almost on a daily basis from different parts of the country. One shudders to think of innumerable other instances that go unreported.
People whose mindsets are attuned to accepting irrational ideas unquestioningly are the ones who are at risk of being manipulated by clever minds. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, 40 villages of Betul district celebrated Diwali in August this year driven by rumours that if anyone failed to celebrate Diwali during the rains, the family would lose its eldest son or face calamity. The rumours were fuelled by clever businessmen who simply saw a great business opportunity in times of recession. In Uttar Pradesh, some time back, women were mislead into dumping wheat and rice into a river if they wished to have a son or wanted success for their sons.
However, the most damage is wrought when shrewd yet intelligent people with criminal tendencies are able to easily draw the gullible into their fold preying on their false beliefs and illiteracy. Apart from pandering to established traditional notions, such fake babas, tantriks and charlatans further firm up their place in the minds of the gullible by demonstrating simple scientific phenomena and passing them off as miracles. They ply their trade secure in the knowledge that the people they target will never question their deeds. Exploiting the poor and the uninformed, such thugs build up empires and hobnob with people in power giving them more sanctity. But for those who get sucked into this cesspool, loss of wealth, loss of dignity and even loss of life are just waiting to happen.
One person who subjected such godmen to intense scrutiny – Narendra Dabholkar – was recently silenced forever. Crusading against obscurantism for the past many years, Dabholkar was an active member of the Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti. It is indeed ironical that while godmen and tantriks are lionised, rationalists like Dabholkar who work towards extricating innocent people from the clutches of such criminals are killed.
We are all duty-bound by the Constitution of India to promote scientific temper among the citizens of the country. We need to empower people in the grip of unfounded beliefs with knowledge to prevent them from being exploited by unscrupulous people and also so they may contribute to the progress of the country more effectively.
Hasan Jawaid Khan
Surf through websites displaying information on health and diseases and you would wonder why at all people of the world should continue to be afflicted with such dreaded diseases like AIDS and cancer when miraculous cures are on offer everywhere. There are hundreds of websites awash with scientifically sounding medical advice. They offer quick and easy remedies for chronic medical conditions.
Dig a little deeper and you find many such websites have been floated by people who have no medical qualifications. The information they display is inaccurate, false and misleading. They are just out to cash in on the frustrations and insecurities of people afflicted with diseases. Some even claim medical industries and conventional doctors are out to silence them and hence their treatments are not offered publicly.
But this is not to say that all of the health information on the Internet is not to be believed. There is a lot of information on websites that is reliable. But while there are many websites that are peddling incorrect information, in some cases, the information being displayed is not current. While medical research moves ahead at a fast pace some even authentic websites do not update their information giving outdated information to surfers who happen to land on their site.
In a study on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) published in August 2012 in the online Journal of Pediatrics, Dr. Rachel Moon and colleagues found that almost 55% websites contained inaccurate information or information that was not medically relevant. The study found that almost 20% were retail product websites, which had the lowest level of medical accuracy. On the other hand, government websites and websites of national organizations had the highest level of accuracy (80.9% and 72.5%, respectively).
Even educational websites (universities or other websites with URL’s ending in .edu, ebooks, peer-reviewed articles) only had 50.2% accurate or updated medical information. Blogs and websites of individuals also had very low rates of medical accuracy (25.7% and 30.3%).
According to another study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, using the Internet to look up health information may be fast and easy, but it may also lead you to inaccurate, misleading or unproven advice.
Searching for information on the Internet on a single type of cancer the researchers found that nearly half the pages had information that had not been scientifically validated, about 6% had wrong information, and others were misleading. The search also turned up hundreds of dead ends, bad links and pages that had no medical information even though they were found in a search.
But all health information on the Internet cannot be condemned. Rather, we need to exercise great caution while travelling on the information superhighway. Ask questions like: Who runs the website? What is the purpose of the website – to sell a product? Beware of websites that offer dramatic, miraculous results and beware of claims that one remedy will cure a variety of illnesses.
Better still, look for the source of the information. Generally, government-sponsored websites (that end in “.gov”), “.edu” sites, which are run by universities or medical schools, “.org” sites maintained by not-for-profit groups whose focus is research and disseminating information about specific diseases or conditions to the public, and sites of medical and scientific journals offer reliable health information.
However, government institutions, organizations and educational websites also need to realize the importance of maintaining up-to-date and accessible medical information on their websites. After all, websites offer the convenience of instant and constant updation.
Hasan Jawaid Khan